Fish Parasite is a Mouthful of Fun

I wanted to call this post; "Hey, Fish, louse got your tongue?" but that was lamer than the one I went with.

I've been sitting on this one since I started the blog but recently articles have been popping up a lot of places and so here I am. You're going to hate me. Even more than you already do.

Observe the tongue louse:


Hah, I made that myself. Shut up.

It's not such a horrible creature, is it? It's actually kind of cute

This is Cymothoa Exigua. In this picture it's communicating with a prospective host fish. This parasite is a fish whisperer and it's whispering:

Me and you and you and me. 
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be. 
The only one for me is you, and you for me. 
So happy together

The tongue louse enters into a commensal relationship with the fish host. That is when one organism lives off anther without doing much in the way of harm. Regardless of what it looks like, the fish continues its life with very little inconvenience. 

You're welcome for the free, unsolicited, elective, tonguectomy
and Me! Your happy replacement prosthetic!!

The Cymothoa Exigua enters a fish's mouth and attaches itself to its tongue.  Next it clamps down on the tongue to cut off the blood circulation and eventually part of the tongue just falls off. After that it replaces the tongue in every way by clamping on to the tongue's remaining stump and the fish carries on oblivious to it's aesthetically hideous tenant. Cymothoa Exigua actually compensates for the damage it does by becoming the fish's tongue. Fish have tongues? Well not the ones who personally know a Cymothoa Exigua. Not anymore.

I've seen the above image posted everywhere but when I went looking for more pictures I was surprised by the variety of fish who have had their tongues surgically removed and replaced by a Cymothoa Exigua. (I just like calling them that, OK? It's right up there with "Cthulhu" when it comes to awesome monster names) Fish found with this louse include snappers, grunts, drums and grunions, none of which sound like actual fish. Also, images below will confirm they infect clown fish who are divided on whether that's funny or not.

Once the louse has moved into the tongue's former job, some live quietly and happily feeding on the host's blood while many others feed on fish mucus. There are many varieties of Cymothoa but this is the only one known to replace an organ.

Look at the little eyes peeping out of the bottom
clown fish's mouth. So adorable.

Kind of interesting to observe that 100% of the clown fish in the photo above are in a commensal relationship with their tongue louse while at the same time they are in a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone in which they live. Fish relationships are almost as complicated as human relationships.

This louse has had its overweight, unemployed, gamer son move in

This fish is offering condo living.
What's with the jaw configuration with this fish??

Who knew there was such a diverse number of living arrangements in the oceans? You're probably wondering which oceans support these parasites. No doubt you want to know this in the event that you wish to avoid that body of water like the plague. First, take comfort in the fact that humans are safe from these parasites. Also, for us living in colder climes, we will never have to encounter this creature when hauling in a catch while fishing for trout. 

Pay no attention to me, I'm a tongue lying here minding my own business.
Carry on.

This gives you an idea of its size in the context of a
mutilated bait fish being held by a gloved hand

Cymothoa ranges from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Two fish + louse were also recently discovered in Costa Rica. It has been found in waters from 2 m (6 ft 7 in) to almost 60 m (200 ft) deep. So heads up you in the South.

Dear United Kingdom:

Recently a Cymothoa was found in a snapper in your waters. It is thought that it hitched over with the snapper and is an isolated case. Or, it could be that the Cymothoa is expanding its range. I'll leave you to rationalize that any way you want.

Lots of love,

PS: Ireland and Scotland, prepare to be invaded. By me. Next year. I may or may not be bringing Angie. Have the scotch ready.


Angie said...

Oh, you're bringing Angie. Yes, you are.

iambriezy said...

This was a brilliant post! Had me laughing out loud.

Baaramtoi said...

This parasite disturbs me in a way I cannot express. It's cute like the alien in Alien. lol :)


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